Enoch Arden

Gillian Wills

The vivid score was superbly presented by Tedeschi.
Enoch Arden

John Bell, actor and Simon Tedeschi, piano. Enoch Arden at QPAC.

Enoch Arden is an epic poem by Tennyson with music by Richard Strauss. It’s melodramatic in spades. And if it seems old-fashioned in its grand themes of love, loss, outstanding loyalty and great self-sacrifice remember that in the mid-nineteenth century, this entertainment of narrator and pianist combo, would have been the theatrical equivalent of today’s Aussie soap operas Neighbours and Home and Away. Liszt, Schubert and Wagner also fashioned music to accompany text for this once popular entertainment.


Simon Tedeschi gave a succinct, amusing introduction. Then he played a Schubert Impromptu and the third of Brahms Intermezzo op. 117 in C# minor that were invested with gleaming tone and heartfelt conviction. The purpose was to illuminate the German 19th Century Sturm und Drang, Storm and Stress style, the musical springboard for Arden. But it would have been more relevant to have heard Strauss’ three musical motives which represent the characters in Tennyson’s tragic love triangle.

Annie Lee, Philip Ray and Enoch Arden are close childhood friends who grow up in a coastal town. When they reach adulthood, Philip and Enoch both want to marry Annie. She chooses Enoch. Philip is heartbroken. Enoch and Annie have three children and enjoy seven years together. Against Annie’s wishes, Enoch embarks on a trading mission to China. Shipwrecked, he survives a decade on a desert island. Meanwhile Philip gifts Annie with financial and emotional support and assumes the role of surrogate Dad. Eventually Annie marries Philip. When Enoch returns and observes his former wife and friend’s rewarding partnership, he doesn’t reveal his identity.

Tennyson’s tale was inspired by the Odysseus and Penelope legend. There are traces of it in the film Castaway that stars Tom Hanks.

Richard Strauss’ introductory music reflects the ebb and flow of the ocean’s rolling waves and this segment and other elements of the vivid score were superbly presented by Tedeschi who underpinned the theatrical nuances, the coastal setting and pianistic commentary distinctively. But the score is sparse, definitely of the less-is-more school. Its purpose to serve the narrator. Was this why Tedeschi delivered two solos?

John Bell’s admirable oratory successfully rolled with the rhythm of Tennyson’s verse. His tone, expertly modulated to illuminate sentiment. The artists have a profitable rapport. In delivering the text, odd words were replaced by Bell’s own and lines cut either purposefully or accidentally skipped. Yet, neither Bell nor Tedeschi falter in their unified performance and commitment to resurrect this 19th century curio. Charming and intriguing.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

Enoch Arden

John Bell and Simon Tedeschi 
Twilight Notes Series
4 July, 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Gillian Wills writes for ArtsHub and has published with The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin and The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other (Finch Publishing) which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.